Alistair Hulett: 'A great songwriter and socialist'

January 30, 2010

Alistair Hulett died at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow on January 28. The obituary published below was complied by Links, the international journal of socialist renewal. More information on Hulett and his career can be found at .

Alistair, a truly great singer, songwriter, activist and socialist, will be greatly missed by us all.

Alistair was born in Glasgow and discovered traditional music in his early teens. In 1968, he and his family moved to New Zealand where he established a reputation on the folk circuit with his large repertoire of songs.

In 1971, at the age of 18, Alistair moved to Australia and he sang his way around Australia's festivals and clubs.

In the early 1980s, Alistair was a founding member of a five-piece punk-folk outfit called Roaring Jack, which specialised in rocking Celtic reels and radical lyrics.

Alistair was a member of the International Socialist Organisation and later Socialist Alternative. Roaring Jack offered their talents for many benefits, rallies and demonstrations in support of the anti-war movement and workers in struggle.

For the next five years, the Jacks made a startling impression on the Australian music scene. Their first album, Street Celtabillity, was released in 1986 and reached No. 1 on the local indie charts.

By the time of the second album, The Cat Among the Pigeons, was released in 1988 the band was headlining in big Australian rock venues, as well as opening for overseas acts including Billy Bragg and the Pogues. The album was nominated for an ARIA award.

After the release of their third album, Through the Smoke of Innocence, the band decided to call it a day, despite another ARIA nomination.

Alistair's first solo CD, Dance of the Underclass, was recorded in 1991. Completely acoustic, the album was instantly hailed as a folk classic. His position as one of the most influential musicians on the Australian scene was now beyond dispute.

In Britain, his song "He Fades Away" (a tragic, moving song about a former miner dying from asbestosis) was picked up by Roy Bailey and June Tabor, and later Andy Irvine.

Alistair's next CD, In the Backstreets of Paradise, returned to the punk-fuelled energy of the days with Roaring Jack.

In 1995, Alistair compiled a collection of songs for Saturday Johnny and Jimmy the Rat that owed little to punk and everything to the folk revival that inspired him in the sixties.

A triumphant performance with Dave Swarbrick at Sidmouth in 1996 was broadcast by the BBC and was followed by a live-in-studio session a few weeks later. Since then, Alistair and Dave have toured extensively in Britain, returned to Australia for another successful tour and recorded their second album together. The Cold Grey Light of Dawn was enthusiastically received and gathered some impressive reviews.

Alistair returned to live in Scotland, continuing to write and perform. He wrote and performed three workshop presentations. "From Blackheath To Trafalgar Square" looked at "insurrection and resistance in the Disunited Kingdom" from the Peasants' Revolt to the poll tax riots. "The Fire Last Time" was a study of the protest song movement of the 1960s and "Red Clydeside" examined the working-class unrest on the Clyde between 1915 and 1920.

In December 2008-January 2009, Alistair toured Australia on a double bill with US singer/songwriter David Rovics, playing benefits for Green Left Weekly. Two more solo albums, In Sleepy Scotland and Riches And Rags, confirmed Alistair's position as one of the most consistent songwriters, musicians and interpreters of traditional music in Scotland.

Folk on Tap called him "One of the defining voices of Scottish music".

Alistair toured Australia for the last time in late 2009, and again made his talents available to the socialist cause.

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